‘Self-awareness is the meta-skill of the twenty-first century,’ according to Dr Tasha Eurich in her book Insight.


There is strong scientific evidence that people who know themselves and how others see them are happier, make smarter decisions, are better communicators and more creative. Powerful stuff.

You may be sceptical about self-awareness, self-development and setting New Year’s resolutions. 

But if you want to bring a bit of zest, motivation and enchantment into your life right now, I have a solution for you. 

Choose one word to guide you throughout 2021. A word to give you direction without fixating on one destination, to support you through the complexities of the year ahead. Something to pay attention to quietly when you make those tricky decisions. 

A word to rekindle something inside you or encourage you to move in a different direction. A word that helps you turn up more consciously in the year ahead and cultivate perhaps a different type of character.

As you will read, choosing my one word has already reaped benefits for me in 2021.

So How To Find The One Word?

1. Find the generic word first

The objective is to find a word or group of words which describe the intent you want to have for the year ahead. The couple of words I chose for 2021 are collaboration and connection. Remember we are not trying to answer the deep question of who you are or find something to measure ourselves against slavishly but to find an intention and a beacon of light with which to nourish your self-development in the year ahead.

My more natural state is solitude and deep thinking or so I have been telling myself but 2020 has shown that I can overplay this narrative and behaviour. Together we can be more impactful and so 2021 is going to see a more outwardly-focused me. 

2. Bring the generic word to life

Think about your favourite words; words that evoke something meaningful inside you. Words are power after all. The imagery that came to me when I thought about connection and collaboration was the honey bee and other animals which work together to survive and thrive. But where I ended up is:

2021 was The Year of The Painted Dog for me! 

3. Share the story behind it

Sharing the story gives your colleagues and friends a sense of how you want your life to unfold in the year ahead and what changes they might expect from you. 

The painted dog or African wild dog may not immediately conjure up connection and cooperation. But it does to me. 

I have seen them from 20 metres away in the bush in Zimbabwe and with David Attenborough in the comfort of my beanbag. The dogs hunt in cooperative packs of six or 20 animals but it is the way they care for each other, treat their young and the injured that really stands out for me and is the relevant part for my year ahead. The young are allowed to feed first on carcasses or if the young can’t get to the carcass, the food will be regurgitated to the young and also extended to adults. 

They are incredibly social animals, they communicate by touch, actions and vocalisations. They take the view that they are only as strong as the weakest member of the pack and so cooperation and collaboration is the best way for them to thrive.

4. Create 3 values

The 3 values are like the constellations around your one word. The values give you more insight into the person you want to grow into. They give you a few more pointers as to what The Painted Dog would do. They influence the type of decisions you make.

My 3 values for 2021 are:

  • Join in with other explorers around shared purpose 
  • Think of who can I help as well as who can help me 
  • Work with energy multipliers

5. Habit intentions 

You are aiming for cognitive alignment not dissonance. The word (or short phrase as I have chosen) sets the narrative and so you want to focus on changing behaviours. And the best way to do that is through habit building. We are what we do. 

As Dr Fox (the Australian Wizard [not the DJ!] and the inspiration behind me finding the word) says, “embracing new behaviours will feel as though you are pretending. And that’s exactly what you are doing – pre-tending. Acting out activities before they become the behaviours you tend to do (and are known to do).”

Some of the habits I am intentionally setting this year are:

  • Talking to someone in my existing network who I have not talked to for over 12 months 
  • When I think of a new idea always think first who I can work with to bring it to fruition
  • Discover new friends and colleagues outside my existing areas of focus

6. Connect Your Word To Your Projects

Your word can be held lightly as you go through the year but I like to build my word into my daily activities and to be very intentional with it on the projects I set myself at the beginning of the year and as the months go by. My mission (not my word or my purpose) is to inspire one million entrepreneurs to find their spark and to flourish. I can’t achieve that doing one-to-one or team coaching although I am planning to live a long time as my Grandfather lived to the amazing age of 106. 

One of the other paths to help me reach the million, is to create online learning content. And in the year of The Painted Dog I have found a very complementary and inspiring partner, Jonathan Bannister, the founder of Make Happy, to help me make this happen.


You could spend 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 weeks reflecting on what the word is. Up to you obviously but I prefer to contemplate and reflect on it, to ask myself the questions I don’t often ask myself. I have found that being more conscious and intentional about life and giving it a re-boot, a refresh each year brings real momentum and direction as I navigate the inevitable complexities of life. 

So what one word is going to guide and serve you during 2021?


Keep well. Give > Take.


Mark Farrer-Brown
Founder and CEO Coach, Entrepreneur, Business Builder and Angel Investor

Mark Farrer-Brown

Mark is known for his scale up expertise having been part of multiple successful exits over the last 25 years as a founder, business builder, coach, mentor and investor.

Follow Mark on LinkedIn.

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